Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Crossleaf Milkwort - Senega cruciata   (L.) J.F.B. Pastore & J.R. Abbott
Members of Polygalaceae:
Members of Senega with account distribution info or public map:
Google Images
Section 6 » Family Polygalaceae
Author(L.) J.F.B. Pastore & J.R. Abbott
DistributionThroughout the southern 2/3 of the Coastal Plain and Sandhills, and spotty in distribution in the rest of the province. Ranges into the central and southern Piedmont, but very local there.

This species is a mainly Coastal Plain species, from NJ south to southern FL and west to OK and eastern TX. The northern part of the range as shown on the BONAP map relates now to P. aquilonia.
AbundanceCommon in the southern half of the Coastal Plain, in well-managed pinelands, including the Sandhills region. Locally fairly common in the central portions, but rare to uncommon in the northern portions. Very rare in the Piedmont.
HabitatThis is a wetland species, of savannas, flatwoods, streamhead ecotones, pocosin margins, and other acidic wetlands, usually near pines.
PhenologyBlooms from June to October, and fruits shortly after flowering.
IdentificationThis is a rather short and compact species, growing erectly but only to about 6-8 inches tall, with some branching. The stem has narrow wings. There are a few whorls of stem leaves, in groups of 4 leaves, each linear to oblanceolate and about 1-1.3 inches long. At the ends of the several branches are the very dense heads of flowers, each about 1.2 inches high and half as wide, with the dozens of flowers closely packed. Each flower is pinkish, about 1/3-inch across. In this species, the head is nearly sessile, with a whorl of leaves just below it. The extremely similar and recently split out S. aquilonia has a slightly narrower head, about 2/5-inch wide, as opposed to 1/2-inch wide in S. cruciata. Also, the peduncle supporting the head, plus the head of the new species, is only about 16 mm (3/5-inch) tall, as opposed to the peduncle plus head length of 1.3 inches long in S. cruciata. The new species is found in NC only in the mountains. Another savanna species, S. brevifolia, has somewhat smaller heads but they are on long peduncles up to 1 inch above any leaves. This is one of the more numerous of the Senega species in the Coastal Plain, less numerous than S. lutea, but still rather easy to find in managed pine wetlands.
Taxonomic CommentsThough always a good species, Weakley (2018) has split out S. aquilonia from it.

All of the former Polygala species in NC have now been moved to the genus Senega in 2023.
Other Common Name(s)Drumheads, Cross-leaved Milkwort
State RankS4
Global Rank[G4G5]
State Status
US Status
County Map - click on a county to view source of record.
Photo Gallery
B.A. SorrieSandhills Game Land, wet streamhead in gasline, off Meyer Lane, July 2009. RichmondPhoto_natural
Select a source
Select an occurrence type